Eight essential comms and marketing tips to harness to enhance your brand’s presence post-lockdown.
No one could have predicted the pandemic at the turn of the year or the crippling effect it would have on the global economy. Tight restrictions on society brought businesses to a halt across a wide range of sectors worldwide. The World Bank’s global forecast in June 2020 predicted a 5.2 per cent contraction in global GDP in 2020.
Few sectors, however, have been hit harder than the retail and hospitality sectors, where many of the most prosperous franchise businesses operate, including O2, Subway, Domino’s, Toni & Guy and McDonald’s.
Franchise businesses have had a tough time since lockdown began, with many franchisees unable to work, and brands struggling to defend and protect their franchisees.
Showing leadership in the media is one way that franchise brands at centralized level can help their franchisees, generate goodwill and emerge into next year and the end of 2020 as a brand of choice for consumers.
So how can PR help franchise brands emerge stronger from lockdown?
Building brand awareness
Attracting more franchisees and gaining a greater market share is always imperative. Increasing brand awareness – literally making the business more visible, en masse – plays a crucial role in this and creative PR strategies and consistent brand messaging are the foundation. This can involve promoting your company’s core values, its unique offering and the inspiring stories and opinions of the people behind it to targeted media outlets and across social media channels.
Consistent media exposure is not only great for building and maintaining consumer awareness but also for helping to keep your brand relevant even outside of key peaks in the news agenda. This can help to heighten your appeal to potential consumers, franchisees and investors. Make sure your brand remains fresh by appearing as a commentator on topical issues at the heart of your sector, even if you are not operating at capacity.
Building trust is essential to maintain engagement among franchisees and consumers. Trampoline fitness franchise ((BOUNCE)) is a great example of using PR to build trust among franchisees, local stakeholders and communities across the U.K. Consistent and regular communications can help to create a stronger and closer-knit family of businesses that all share in a common goal. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, ((BOUNCE)) had to shut all its franchises across the U.K. in unison. It communicated to all of its instructors at the same time, took an honest human approach – offering support and guidance to any instructors and franchisees impacted by COVID-19 – while simultaneously continuing its PR push to drive positivity and boost morale among franchisees after trading had to temporarily stop. By standardizing the decision across all franchises, the action was clear and decisive and helped to grow positive sentiment among consumers by putting health first.
Connecting with local customers
Regional growth is an effective strategy for emerging franchise brands, and PR can be an effective tool to maximize local exposure to potential franchisees and customers, while also benefitting the brand nationwide.
Giving your franchise a local feel can allow a more targeted PR approach and a greater active participation in the local community. For example, sponsoring a local sports team, volunteering at charity events or holding regular networking events and promoting these in local newspapers or radio stations. This can give each branch, and the brand as a whole, a personable feel, making it more accessible to consumers. This increased visibility in local markets will contribute towards increased visits, sales and income and could generate loyal local customers and brand advocates.
The importance of personal profiling and telling your story
It is said that consumers buy from people rather than brands – that’s why personal profiling is key to a successful PR strategy for franchise brands and franchisees.
Take KFC for example. Harland Sanders – now affectionately known as the ‘Colonel’ – started to make a profit from his chicken recipe aged 62, having sold his products from a roadside stop in Utah in the 1930s. Fast forward to the present day, and KFC is among the most famous franchises in the world and ranked the fifth largest in Europe. At the forefront of the brand is the Colonel himself, his secret recipe and his heart-warming story about his meteoric rise to success.
“Make sure your brand remains fresh by appearing as a commentator on topical issues at the heart of your sector, even if you are not operating at capacity”
But you don’t need to be the Colonel to appeal to potential franchisees and customers. Whatever your story may be, telling it in an engaging and inspiring way can help to present your brand in a more personable way. This will grow positive sentiment and brand recognition, making your brand more approachable for consumers, and in turn will generate more leads.
Explain your personal and professional background, including how and why you founded the business and its growth story. This will allow you to tap into your company’s core values and express them in a relatable way. This is a great way to differentiate your brand from competitors.
Personal profiling can be a key way to lead changes in consumer behavior and society that are both beneficial to the wider community and the brand. When the U.K. went into lockdown to tackle COVID-19, RED Driving School was one of many franchise organizations in the U.K. with a communication challenge on their hands. While RED’s competitors hid away from the limelight, as driving lessons were temporarily banned, The PHA Group established RED and its CEO, Ian McIntosh, as a reassuring presence in the media and helped them gain a competitive edge when the U.K. re-opened.
Our strategy focused on keeping inactive learners engaged with practical advice, turning franchisees into ambassadors, supporting key workers and being a clear and bold public voice for the driving industry as a whole.
We mobilized Ian, developing bold calls to action for national media, including lobbying the government to extend financial support to self-employed workers and later, as lockdown eased, we urged the DVSA to provide clear timelines and advice on safety measures. The message was broadcast across prime BBC Radio and BBC TV slots as well as Sky News, and national, regional and trade coverage was generated including in The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. The coverage was so impactful that Ian received a personal note of thanks from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
This placed Ian in a strong position to respond when the government eventually allowed driving lessons and tests to resume. A reactive ‘newsjacking’ strategy secured a further 22 pieces of coverage within 24 hours across key national and trade titles including Mail Online, The Telegraph, Sky News Online, PA Media, and Fleet News.
To ensure RED emerged as a brand of choice for learners, The PHA Group also developed timely content strands to cut-through the coronavirus context. Practical media articles advised learners on topics such as learning to drive with your parents during lockdown; the dangers of the MOT extension; safely returning to the roads after months away from the driver’s seat; and how to stay test-ready without driving.
Finally, case studies were developed and placed in lifestyle and national press to bring to life RED’s expertise in the sector. From instructors supporting key workers to the first test pass after lockdown – we ensured the heartwarming stories from the sector were heard.
At the campaign’s end, 147 pieces of coverage had been secured and RED Driving School had a 49.3 per cent majority media share of voice versus competitors. Consequently, website traffic doubled compared to the same period in 2019, the business reached its five-year SEO goal, and had acquired 37,000 new learner enquiries with a further 11,000 customers on their waiting list.
Establish a crisis comms plan
PR disasters can happen and proactive crisis communication and reputation management planning are there to help. They’re crucial for franchises in particular. As franchisees work more independently from the main brand, there is potentially less individual responsibility for the possible risks involved to the wider brand during a crisis which could leave it more vulnerable. Failure to prepare for such eventualities can result in harm to stakeholders, possibly losses, and even closures.
Scandals can have a wide-ranging impact on a franchise, so preparing a plan of action is key. Having a confident and media-trained CEO at the forefront of any crisis response is a valuable asset and can add the human touch that helps brands to quell some of the negative media attention.
PR as a solution to help franchise businesses emerge stronger from lockdown
Like almost all other businesses, franchise brands have been affected by the pandemic. At a time of huge change, it can be tempting to go quiet and pull back on marketing spend. But remaining an active and relevant brand for consumers despite hardship is an excellent way to promote the business as resilient, strong and dependable – building trust and positive sentiment among consumers and franchisees and contributing to the bottom line. On the other hand, silence can be fatal for those brands who remain inactive and turn the tap off on their marketing spend. This money will need to be spent later down the line to recapture lost engagement. External communications can help you get your brand ahead of the chasing pack and ensure it rebounds stronger and faster from the downturn. ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’ is a common business mantra but now, more than ever, it rings true.
Mimi Brown is head of entrepreneurs and business at The PHA Group.